Three Poems: Paul Hostovsky


You’re attending a reunion
of all the people
you’ve slept with in your life—
it isn’t a large number,
less than legion, more
than minyan, a number
divisible only by itself and you.
It’s a formal gathering in a room with
large upholstered chairs
and potted weeping figs,
a small bar in the corner
where two women you don’t recognize
are seriously kissing, holding their drinks aloft
like tiny sloshing mountain lakes
in their slender raised hands. You aren’t
dressed for the occasion,
you realize as you look down
at your ashy underwear and ten
poor stubby toes. It seems
you’re expected to make a speech
which everyone has traveled far
through time and space to hear. You’re
unprepared. No script. No notes. You
haven’t even given it a thought. Now
you frantically ask one ex-lover
after another for a writing utensil. You
actually say “writing utensil” the way
your teacher said it in the 3rd grade.
No one has a pen. But someone
has an eye liner pencil. Now for
some paper. You’re holding a damp
drink napkin in your hand, shaking it
in the air to dry it. If only you
could write, you think, maybe
you could still make something out of this
nightmare, something beautiful and true.

The Proust Is in the Pudding

So I wake up with this line in my head—
the Proust is in the pudding—
fishtailing around on the surface of a dream,
and I grab it, I just take it, and I run with it
downstairs to the computer
where I enter another kind of dream state
where I’m trying to follow the thread of the line
into the poem, and I’m holding on to the line
for dear life like it’s a bungee cord and I’m
bungee jumping through the poem boing boing
looking around for the thread which is in here
somewhere, I know it is, I trust it is,
it’s like you have to trust the line and you have to trust
the thread not to break when the line breaks
into another line, and another, and another,
the way the line must, the way the dream
breaks into day, like daybreak, like breakfast, like broken
egg yolks—ok maybe not like broken egg yolks,
maybe the egg yolks are a little forced, maybe
I’ll take them out later, and maybe
I’ll just put them back in again because
I like my egg yolks broken, and also because
sometimes you can do that in a good poem,
especially when you’re trusting in something bigger
than yourself, something bigger than egg yolks,
bigger than Proust and madeleines and all the lost
time in the world. Because when you trust in the line
then you’re holding on to the line for dear life like it’s a
pull cord on a parachute, it’s like you’re
parachuting down through the poem
but at the same time you’re floating up
(you can only do this in poetry) in the hot air balloon
of the poem, standing inside the little wicker basket,
a few passengers with you, a few good readers,
and Marcel Proust with his own wicker picnic basket
full of madeleines, which is actually your source
of heat, your open flame, which is pushing the envelope
upward, and powering the buoyant
antique iridescent technology of the poem.


And what if dying is like
that time I got out of school early
because I had an appointment
and I pushed open the heavy doors
and walked out into the day
and it was a beautiful spring day
or a late winter day that smelled like spring
and if it was fall it was early fall
when it’s all but technically summer
and there was a whole world going on out there
and it had been going on out there the whole time
that I was stuck inside with time
and teachers and rules and equations and parsed sentences
but now here I was among the tribe
of the free and I could go this way or I could go that way
or I could just sit down right here on this bench
and look around at all the freedom
that was mine and also the work crew’s
breaking for lunch beneath their ladders and also the woman’s
pushing her stroller along the sidewalk and also the man’s
walking his small dog and smoking a cigarette
and it belonged to the cars whooshing by with a sound like
the wind in the trees and the wind in my hair
and the wind all around me and inside me
and also above me chasing the clouds running free
and suddenly there was my mother
looking somehow a little different
in all her freedom and all my freedom
until she rolled down her window and waved
to come—now—hurry
because I had an appointment
which felt like a real buzzkill
and I briefly considered turning around
and walking away from her
and going off on my own somewhere
to be alone and free for a little longer
or maybe for forever
but then I realized there was nowhere for me to go
except home

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